Author Heather Demetrios talks about the inspiration behind her coming of age novel about the romance between a trailer-park girl with big dreams and the combat veteran she never expected to fall for. "I'll Meet You There" is available now on Kindle.
I didn’t want to write this book. Of all my reasons, it came down to this: who was I to write about the journey of a young Marine with PTSD, an amputee struggling with grief and memories that threaten to crush him all day, every day? How was I worthy to tell his story?
The thing is, sometimes we don’t choose the story we want to write; the stories choose us. I gave up on I’ll Meet You There more times than I can count. I didn’t want to write a throwaway summer romance. I wanted to write something that would break people’s hearts, then put them back together in ways they never expected. So I’d put the manuscript aside, then come back to it. Again and again and again. The root of my quitting was fear. I couldn’t bear the thought of not getting it right. But no matter how many times I walked away, my main characters, Josh and Skylar, wouldn’t let me go.
It’s nearly impossible to say what inspired me to write this novel, though it started with setting: a roadside motel off a highway I drove up and down so often in my childhood. But I can tell you why I stuck with it, why I stayed in the trenches with Sky and Josh while they waged their personal wars. For one, Josh’s struggle with PTSD and his life as a Marine is intensely personal to me. Both my parents were Marines, and my dad continues to suffer from PTSD. It wasn’t until I began my research that I realized how much my father’s PTSD had to do with his alcoholism and depression. The more I read, the more Marines and Soldiers I interviewed, and the more I got into Josh’s head and heart, the more I realized I care enormously about the topic of veterans’ affairs. I had to write this book—for Josh, for my dad, for the more than 2.6 million veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who have mental and physical wounds. The military is full of young adults like Josh who deserve to have their story told.
Another reason I was inspired to write the novel is that class diversity is simply not represented very much in YA. I was middle-class growing up, but I had a single mom for most of my life, and we struggled. My sister and I qualified for school lunches, and we were briefly on food stamps. Being poor sucked. Skylar has it much worse than I did, but it was important for me to show a kid who lives in a trailer park, whose mom works at a fast-food restaurant. There are so many teens like her, teens who deserve to feel known, to see their struggles and their fight to survive reflected in the novels of their time. As I mention in my acknowledgments, to these kids I say: love is medicine, and dreams are oxygen.
Whenever I talk about I’ll Meet You There, I call it the book of my heart. But I didn’t know that’s what it would become when I started writing it. I had no idea my two main characters would take me on a gut-wrenching journey to places that were painfully familiar, to landscapes so horrifying they drive grown men to helpless despair. I’ll Meet You There is about teens outside the picket fence. It’s about love and war and art and healing. It’s about, as the Rumi poem the title comes from suggests, the meeting of two hearts: yours—and mine.
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